Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson Staff Union requests voluntary recognition from college for two new bargaining units

Emerson+Staff+Union+requests+voluntary+recognition+from+college+for+two+new+bargaining+units
Rachel Choi

The Emerson Staff Union (ESU) has requested the college voluntarily recognize staff in Financial Aid and Student Accounts as union members. Now, ESU, who has already recognized eligible staff in both offices as members, is waiting for a yes or no response from the college to make it official.

ESU members said they received a response from President Jay Bernhardt last Friday, a week after they issued a letter of their request for recognition to him on Feb. 23. In his response, Bernhardt said he hopes to get back to the union with an answer this coming week. ESU met with Human Resources last Tuesday to discuss the authentication process and who is eligible.

“On Feb 23, 2024, the Staff Union informed the college of a group of Emerson staff members who wish to affiliate with the Staff Union and requested voluntary recognition. The College is carefully considering the request and will inform the Union as soon as a decision has been made,” the college said in a statement to the Beacon.

ESU, a collective bargaining organization representing 167 staff members at the college in Academic Affairs, IT, and the Marketing Communications departments, is represented by Local SEIU 888. John-Albert Moseley, chair of the union and the program coordinator of VMA, said they are currently in the life of their second contract, with 2025 being the last year of the contract.

Staff members in Financial Aid and Student Accounts have been working with the union for several months, ESU members said, based on the lack of equity and representation in their working conditions. A majority of the eligible staff for union membership have already signed union cards, they said.

“We are a large portion of this college and we help this college run smoothly. If there is a union for the workers of Emerson, then I think it is very fair we are part of that,” said Barrett Nightingale, a staff member in the office of Student Accounts and one eligible staff member who has been unionizing. 

Nightingale is a Student Accounts counselor, helping to facilitate payments and refunds with her group of students. She said she believes that she and her colleagues work hard for the college and want their voices to be heard. 

“It’s important to be part of that [union] work. We want our voices to be heard by the union … and any union efforts being made for labor practices to have the voices of our divisions involved in that,” Nightingale said. “For me, it is about getting to contribute and help the workers at Emerson.”

Similar to the steps Emerson resident assistants took last fall, the union’s request from the college for voluntary recognition would include 15 eligible staff members from both offices. If the college agrees to their request, ESU is asking for a third-party federal mediator to be available to the college to verify the signed cards.

If ESU receives a declined request from the college, they will take the matter to a vote with the National Labor Relations Board for an election to certify the two new bargaining units as representative of a unit of staff within the union.

“This is a very engaging and talented group of people that will be an asset. They are an asset to the college and an asset to our daily lives,” said Moseley. “We are hoping the college will do the right thing and acknowledge this small group.”

Staff from both offices began working with ESU during the fall semester, citing deficiencies in their working conditions and lack of belonging from the union, ESU members said. ESU waited until the end of last month to officially approach the college to ensure that all the questions were answered before discussing signing union cards, said Daniel Crocker, vice chair of the union and the coordinator of electric resources and reference librarian in the Iwasaki Library. 

Those deficiencies, Crocker said, include their salary and market adjustments and what staff believes to be a need for more protection in their jobs. Crocker said they wanted union representation to understand what could be changing in their positions and how fast.

“One example of a union right important to us [is if the college decides to eliminate a position. If you are a union member, you get a 60-day advancement and take action, but if you are not [a union member], you don’t have a right to know anything before two weeks,” Crocker said. “The college will generally provide information as much as they can, but sometimes they make sudden decisions and [nonunionized staff] felt vulnerable to sudden changes that would have a dramatic impact on their job satisfaction.” 

Crocker said there was a significant reconstruction of compensation by the college in January 2023 that came “almost unannounced.” Through CBIZ, a firm the college hired to analyze whether or not people were being paid at a fair market rate, Crocker said that unionized staff were able to gain market adjustments earlier than they were distributed to non-unionized staff.

The CBIZ market adjustments ​​took place for union members in January of that year. The adjustments were scheduled through the contract, so unionized staff not at the 50th percentile baseline would continue getting adjustments every year, effective Jan. 1

The adjustments also instituted a new set of parameters of where salaries could lie, Crocker said. The minimum is the 25th percentile and the maximum is the 75th percentile of what is seen as the current market rate. Crocker said union members of a certain level of experience were guaranteed to be brought up to the 50th percentile within the lifespan of their contract and guaranteed for other members they would get up to the 25th percentile if they weren’t already there.

“We as a union can achieve a greater breadth of effectiveness, but a non-union member who wants to take on their market adjustment or salary step is basically on their own with HR,” Moseley said. “Being part of the union gives collective strength to be part of that and hopefully improves things.”

Moseley said ESU’s request will be of interest to students because they attend “a tuition-driven school.”

“Being at a tuition-drive school, money is an issue, but this group of people is seeking voice, recognition, and solidarity. All they’re asking for is asking to join the union,” Moseley said. “It’s not just money; it’s having a voice on where they progress and having a seat at the table in conversations.”

Members said adding the new eligible staff from both offices would expand the union’s voice.

“The best thing about these two new groups is having new energy and new ideas as to how to approach problems. The union has always been a collective source of individual strengths and the skills and approaches to problems we see in Financial Aid and Student Accounts are significantly different than the ones in the library or VMA,” Crocker said. “When we gather these strengths together to solve problems, we can get things done better, cheaper, and more efficiently with wider and greater results.”

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About the Contributor
Olivia LeDuc, News Editor
Olivia LeDuc (she/her) is a journalism student and assistant editor for the campus coverage of The Beacon’s news section. When she’s not reporting, you can find her crocheting or going on yet another long walk in the city.

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